Twin Cities south Asian hot spots

Gorkha Palace, Darbar India Grill, and more

After a few years spent in the shadows of a Twin Cities Thai food and sushi boom, south Asian cuisine is having its rightful moment in the spotlight. Four new restaurants and one weekly curry-night dinner serve up the complex spice blends characteristic to north and south India, Tibet, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Bring on the biryani, momos, and chutney—and never pass up the chance to order a mango lassi.

Amu's Madras Cafe
4920 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights
763.571.5576 appetizers $4-$5; entrées $7-$12

For years, 4920 Central Avenue in Columbia Heights has been the Twin Cities' go-to spot for south Indian food, first as Udupi, then as Nala Pak, and now as the new Amu's Madras Café. The dining room looks as dull as ever, but that keeps the focus on the stellar south Indian vegetarian cuisine prepared by Udupi's former chef.

Spice up your life with Gorkha's chicken tikka masala and naan
Jana Freiband
Spice up your life with Gorkha's chicken tikka masala and naan

Location Info

Map

Amu's Madras Cafe

4920 Central Ave. NE
Columbia Heights, MN 55421

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Columbia Heights

Details

North Indian cuisine dominates the Twin Cities market, and the menu at Amu's offers several hard-to-find dishes. For starters, the south Indian dosai: giant, crisp, paper-thin crepes rolled up and often filled with a scoop of mashed vegetables. The dosa's tangy flavor comes from its fermented, ground rice/lentil batter, and it's delicious enough to make you want to hold the thing up like a megaphone and alert everyone at the neighboring Sonic to what they're missing.

The spice blends at Amu's are good enough to distract even die-hard carnivores from missing meat. For example, the gobi Manchurian, or fried cauliflower fritters coated with a Chinese-style spicy tomato-garlic sauce, could satisfy any junk-food craving. The Hyderabad-style Bhagar 'e' Baigan curry features baby eggplant simmered to melting tenderness in a nutty gravy that tastes both new and familiar. Paneer served in a classically rich, creamy-tart butter masala achieves dish-licking status.

During lunch, Amu's $8.49 buffet is a remarkable bargain, offering several hot entrée options supplemented with a potato-filled dosa, a basket of naan, and an entire table's worth of desserts.

Bukhara Indian Bistro
15718 Wayzata Blvd. E., Minnetonka
952.476.7997; www.bukharamn.com
appetizers $3-$9; entrées $9-$21

Bukhara Indian Bistro, which replaced the former Istanbul Bistro on 394, brings classic strip-mall ethnic eats to an area that lacked them. The restaurant is operated by Joginder Cheema, a pioneer of the local Indian food scene who formerly owned several Taste of India and India Palace restaurants and owns three India House restaurants.

Bukhara serves a relatively short list of north Indian Mughal food, including such classics as palak paneer and lamb vindaloo. The tomato-based sauces on shrimp masala and vegetable makhani are bright and intense, smothering perfectly cooked seafood and vegetables. Prepared with medium heat, both dishes leave a warm afterglow that can be cooled with a bite of the accompanying raita or lentils.

The kitchen is proudest of its kebabs, which are prepared by rubbing spices directly into the meat before cooking it in a tandoor. The technique turns out chicken tikka with a firm but tender texture. A yogurt marinade lends a sour tang to the meat, and the clay oven imparts a pleasant smokiness.

The restaurant has a spare but comfortable feel, and its location, just west of the Carlson Parkway exit, should make it a popular takeout stop for commuters.

Darbar India Grill
1221 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
612.822.3300; darbarindiagrill.com
appetizers $5-$13; entrées $11-$20

Darbar India Grill puts an upscale spin on a typically casual cuisine—the same approach as its two predecessors at 1221 W. Lake Street, Pizza Nea and Indio. Although another Indian restaurant, Delights of India, is right across the street, Darbar distinguishes itself from Uptown's limited south Asian options with an ambiance that's more date-worthy than hole-in-the-wall.

The dining room has been redecorated in a pretty palette of blues and oranges with gold accents. Carved wooden elephants and a mural of a glamorous, Bollywood-style star give the space a feel that's authentic yet contemporary. With its free-range chicken and specialty cocktail list, Darbar is positioned a notch above cheap eats—too classy for a lunch buffet. It's not as ambitious, in culinary terms, as downtown Minneapolis's ultra-chic Om, but it also doesn't call for nearly the funds or formality.

Darbar's owner, Diljit Singh, operates four India Palace restaurants in the Twin Cities suburbs, and the new restaurant's menu, impressive for its breadth, largely overlaps with those of the others. It includes all the ubiquitous items like chana masala, but also harder-to-find fare, such as south Indian idly, or steamed rice/lentil patties. The curries I sampled—chicken jalfrezi and a lamb rogan josh—were both solid executions without being particularly outstanding.

I would recommend skipping the chili pakora, India's answer to jalapeño poppers or chile relleños, which are jalapeño peppers stuffed with paneer and mashed potatoes and fried in chickpea batter. Between the chickpea crust, the potatoes, and the crumbly cheese, they're just too dry to be palatable.

Though Darbar has an elegant ambiance, the service still has an amateur feel: friendly, indeed, but somehow chaotic, noteworthy for its absence or redundancy instead of its seamlessness.

Gorkha Palace
23 Fourth St. NE, Minneapolis
612.886.3451; www.gorkhapalace.com
appetizers $4-$12; entrées $10-$15

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